I’m personally not much of a New Years Resolution maker myself. I see it as an arbitrary date, and trying to pile a bunch of big changes into your life at once tends to set people up for overwhelm, burn out, and failure.

But I very much am about resolutions and goal setting. I just tend to scatter them about at times that make sense to my life and start them whenever.

I don’t care when you set your goals, all start dates are arbitrary. First of the year? Monday? First of the month? Birthday?

But I do care about HOW you set your goals.

Too often I just hear something general like “I want to read more,” “I want to learn a new skill,” “I want to get in shape.”

While all noble ideas, these are merely ideas. There is nothing concrete to hang actions on.

Make SMART Goals

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SMART stands for:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-bound

“I want to get in shape” is the antithesis of a SMART goal. Instead, maybe say “For the next month, I want to do a 20 min run twice a week, then next month I will up it to 3 times a week.”

Visualize Your Goals

So now you have your SMART goal, we need to actually stick it into your current routine. This is where your “Habits Audit” from before comes into play. One way to create a new habit is to hang it on an existing habit. And if you don’t know what your automatic routines are, that’s going to be hard to do.

Let’s take that running goal from above. Okay, so 20 mins 2x a week. What does your day look like right now? Are you barely able to drag yourself out of bed and get to work on time? Probably not smart to plan to run in the AM. (No matter what you’ve read, there is nothing magical about working out in the morning, or about fasted training.) Is there a gym near work where you could do it on your lunch break? Are there trails on the way home you could stop at?

The key isn’t to envision an idealized version of yourself in some fuzzy dream life, it’s to be realistic about what you can actually stick to.

Plan for Setback

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You will “fall off the wagon.”

Thing is, there isn’t really a wagon. Nothing is leaving you behind. If you stumble you want to get right back to it at your next opportunity.

Easier said than done. I know how easy one missed workout can lead to two weeks of holding the couch down. Been there.

So create a For Emergencies Only on-ramp to get back on track.

For my workout routine, when I fall off and have a hard time getting back in the game, I have a few simple routines that I do just to gain momentum again. They are usually moves I don’t use in my normal training, so the variety makes it more fun and less mentally intense. (I do 5 rounds of 8 reps bench press and 30 reps heavy kettlebell swings.) I can get this done in 30 mins, it hits most of my muscles, gets a little cardio capacity work, and it sets the tone.

For food, if I get off track, usually I just pick back up where I left off on my next grocery trip.

For water consumption, I set a large bottle of water on my desk at home and my desk at work so that I’m reminded as soon as I’m standing there to get started drinking water early.